---- — By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
ELYSBURG -- As the time grows near for Jim Roth to say good-bye to one Becker, a valuable piece of the Southern Columbia puzzle for the last three years, he can take comfort in knowing that he still has one left.
Senior tight end/defensive end/punter Jake Becker is winding down his outstanding career as the Tigers work toward what they hope will be another trip to the Class A state final in Hershey. Younger brother Nick, a freshman quarterback/linebacker, is at the beginning of what Roth hopes will be an exciting journey.
The Beckers are the sons of Jim and Michelle Becker and their father, the Southern High principal, was a standout football player and wrestler in his own right at Southern.
Growing up, the Beckers were always playing football, but most of their friends who played in their backyard games were Jake's buddies, and Nick always played against older kids.
He usually played on the opposite team from Jake. "We were always on opposite teams because we always hated each other, and we always went at it," Jake said.
Nevertheless, there was plenty of brotherly love in the air in Southern's regular-season finale at Warrior Run. Nick, the back-up and heir apparent to senior quarterback Taylor Young, got the start that night because Young was out with a concussion.
In what Roth believes is a first in program history, Nick threw a touchdown pass to his brother.
"That was pretty cool," said Jake. "I was a little surprised when I caught the ball, and it will be pretty cool to look back some day and say that I caught a touchdown pass from my brother. Not many people can say that."
Nick said he wasn't even thinking about the possibility of throwing a pass to his brother because he was so focused on what he had to do in his first varsity start. When the play call came in from Roth is when he really took notice.
The play worked even better than either brother could have imagined as Jake found himself wide open in the end zone.
What if he had dropped it? "I would have hoped to get another pass to him," Nick said.
Like Nick, Roth hadn't though about the possible brother-to-brother connection during the week, but said, "When the game started it crossed my mind and I thought it would be nice if he could complete a pass to him. As we started to get past midfield, I thought if he could hit one there it could possibly be a score."
Making his mark
Jake has been a force on both sides of the ball as well as special teams as the punter, and, Roth noted, was a rare two-way starter as an underclassmen last year. In the District 4 title game last week, he sparked a comeback win with a punt block that led to an Adam Feudale touchdown.
"That was the first one of my career and I promised (2011 graduate Tom Schetroma) that I would get one after he blocked one in the state playoffs against Old Forge," Jake said. "I was firing off the ball and once I saw the high snap and (the punter) was running my way, I thought I had a pretty good shot at it," he said.
"He has been one of our top leaders the last couple years and starting two ways for two years is unusual in our program," Roth said. "We get a kid every now and then who will start two ways as a senior, but not too many as juniors."
He said Jake displayed a strong ability to block at a young age. "A lot of coaches will say blocking is all about attitude, and he was very determined as a young kid. He was very effective as a blocker and I think a lot of it was because of his desire and his attitude," Roth said of his 6-foot-1, 230-pound star.
He also believes that being a wrestler was a big help. "When you look at the skills needed for a blocker in football, body control, balance and leverage, that is all wrestling is," Roth said.
Jake said that, although he enjoys his chances to catch the ball, he loves blocking, but he still prefers playing defense. "I like defense because you can be more physical and throw people around. On offense, you can be physical, but you have to be controlled a little bit," he said.
And he really loves punting, something with which he has excelled the last two seasons. He wants to play college football and hopes that, if nothing else, he gets to punt at the next level.
He said assistant coaches Al Cihocki and Andy Mills have been a big help and Cihocki helped him with his steps and how to hold the ball.
Jake played soccer when he was younger and, being the goalkeeper, had lots of opportunities to boot the soccer ball away.
Roth, who disdains talking about punting, because, as he has noted in the past, "it is a defeatist attitude,'' nevertheless agreed that Jake has helped flip the field and put the Tigers in good shape with his strong and accurate leg.
"Jake has punted consistently the last two years, getting the ball downfield with good distance and getting a good bit of height, and doing a good job of directional punting," Roth said.
On the season, he has punted 26 times for 1,004 yards, a 38.6 average, putting seven inside the 20-yard line.
On the move
Nick, who, like his brother, started playing football about age 10 with the Ralpho Raiders youth team, was a running back and linebacker.
He was moved to quarterback his final year with the Raiders and has been there ever since.
Roth said, "He did a real nice job in junior high and was one of those kids who was big at a young age (he is now 6-3, 190) and he just had not matured into his frame, and I don't think he still is 100 percent."
Roth has not had many three-year starters at quarterback, the last being former Pennsylvania Class A Player of the Year Dan Latorre.
"We are excited with him stepping in next year for three years. It is nice to get a kid as a sophomore and really spend some time and have that position pretty much set for a three-year period," the coach said.
Nick also plays linebacker, subbing in to give starters a rest or for injured players and Roth said he is good enough that the team doesn't lose anything when he goes in.
"He reads and reacts real well for a young kid," Roth said, but added that he is not likely to be used at linebacker when he becomes the starting quarterback.
One more goal
While Nick will be leading the Tigers the next three years, Jake hopes to be in college and studying to become a physical therapist.
For now, the two have jobs to do to try to help the Tigers do what their fans always expect -- play for a state championship.
"I always dreamed of being on a state championship team, and going (to Hershey) every year. I thought it would be cool to play there and last year we did, but it would be different if we won again," Jake said.
The six-time state champion Tigers lost to Clairton last year.
Added Nick, "I was pretty excited (to join the varsity this season) thinking about everything that has happened in the program, a lot of history.
"I just wanted to step in and try not to do anything wrong and help the team," he said.
That is what Roth and his staff hope for as well for the next three years.